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Indonesia's youth groups try to counter militant recruitment

As reports of militant recruitment among young people rise, small groups are popping up across Indonesia in an effort to help keep youths safe.

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A concerted effort to get Indonesian Muslim conservatives to eschew violence through education, and a sweeping police dragnet that killed or captured many of Indonesia’s leading militants, has weakened large terrorist organizations, such as the once powerful Jemaah Islamiyah.

But now, militant organizations are turning to Indonesian youth to fill their depleted ranks and carry out missions.

In January, counterterrorrism police arrested members of a high school militant cell in Klaten, Central Java, planning to attack several local shrines and churches. Months later police foiled a plan to blow up a church outside Jakarta on Good Friday. That bust open a window on a new terror cell led by a graduate of the liberal State Islamic University (UIN), who learned his bombmaking skills through the Internet. At least six UIN students and alumni have been arrested on terrorism charges since 2010.

In the meantime, Muslim youth organizations are responding to the perceived uptick in militancy recruitment among youths in Indonesia. A dark red banner outside the Jakarta branch of the Islamic Students Association (HMI), an umbrella student group with ties to influential politicians reads, “Crisis Center.”

Part of the HMI association’s mission is to protect students from radicalization. “If the activities of HMI don’t fill their needs, they’ll look for something else that fulfills their curiosity,” says Ratna Sari, a member. At least 20 have contacted the center to get help after leaving militant groups since the center started almost three months ago.

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